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University to begin drug testing for safety-sensitive positions

By Dan Heuchert

Approximately 3,500 University job positions that affect people's safety -- mostly in the Medical Center -- will be subject to pre-employment and "for-cause" drug and alcohol testing beginning April 1.

Notifications to the employees in those jobs were to be mailed out this week, said Thomas E. Gausvik, U.Va.'s chief human resource officer.

The new policy applies mostly to faculty, staff and physicians involved in patient care and related areas, including those with access to controlled substances. University police and security officers also fall under the policy, as do those who operate hazardous equipment.

The text of the complete policy and a list of affected positions is available online at: http://www.hrs.virginia. edu/mgrmemos/ drug_policy.html

Bus and van drivers are already tested under a more stringent federal Department of Transportation plan that also includes random testing, Gausvik said.

Maintaining patient safety is the policy's chief aim, said Gausvik, who added that many other patient care facilities have similar plans, including Martha Jefferson Hospital, the Medical College of Virginia, Augusta Medical Center and Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

"We're hoping there won't be many occurrences," he said. "We're not saying we have a big problem, we're just saying it's consistent with industry practice to ensure as safe as possible workplaces.

"Most people, it's not an issue for them. They're not impaired, and they want patients to be protected, and they want their workplace to be safe."

New employees in designated safety-sensitive positions would be screened for drugs as a condition of employment. The urine tests will be announced in advance as part of the job description and will not be directly observed, although they will be conducted in a controlled environment.

Individual departments will be billed for the cost of testing. However, employees who ask for a second test to confirm a positive result must pay for it.

Once hired, only those whom managers suspect of being impaired by alcohol or drugs would be tested -- and then only after a process that brings in others to verify the need and gives employees an opportunity to explain their behavior, Gausvik said. Options include analyzing urine, blood, hair or breath. A blood-alcohol level of 0.04 is considered a positive test, as is the refusal to submit to a test.

Results of any tests will be kept between the individuals and managers with a need to know.

There is no provision for random testing, Gausvik stressed, except for those who return to work after an initial positive test.

The University would have a range of sanctions at its disposal for employees found to have been impaired on the job, including immediate dismissal -- especially if a patient was found to be harmed.

"Most of the people who have this problem are very good people," he said. "We want to get people help when they need it."

Counseling will be coordinated through the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program, according to the policy. Employees may also be reassigned within the University.

The plan, under development for three years, was approved by the Board of Visitors in October. It has the support of the Medical Center Employee Council, Gausvik said.


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